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How Have Religious Services Changed During The Pandemic?

Outside St. Paul Catholic Center

Outside St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington. (WFIU/WTIU Lexi Vennetti)

Two questioners in recent weeks asked our City Limits project about how faith communities are adjusting to life during a time of COVID-19.

Places of worship have had to adjust to new safety precautions, but the message and importance of religious service remains. 

Father Patrick Hyde is pastor and director of Campus Ministry at St. Paul Catholic Center.

Father Hyde said masks and social distancing are required, there is extra sanitizing of the pews, capacity is limited, and singing adjustments have been made to keep people safe. 

He said there is no more corporate or observant singing, but masks are still worn and required while prayers are recited. 

He said the priest does not wear a mask and stands about 50 feet away from the congregation.

“As Catholics we believe in the presence of God not only in our own interior life and our own connection personally to Him, so that’s available anywhere and everywhere, but we also believe in the presence of God mediated through the community and also through the sacraments,” he said.

St. Paul Catholic Center is open with safety precautions.

“And so for us as Catholics we have a very corporeal, very physical understanding of our spirituality and so to be together gathered in prayer on Sunday at the Eucharist is the most important part of our faith,” he said. He said it’s also important for people to meet “so as to encounter God in each other and to lift up each other so there is the individual sanctification and growth and holiness that comes from receiving the sacraments but also the communal growth that comes from the nourishment that we receive from God and give to one another when we are gathered together.”

Rabbi Sue Silberberg is executive director at Helene G. Simeone Hillel Center.

She said she worked with a couple of doctors, an emergency room physician and a family practice physician and also consulted with a number of local faculty and her governing board to develop COVID-19 and religious service policies for the center.

Hillel currently has only outdoor services. Those attending must register because there is a capacity, masks and social distance are mandatory, everyone has to take a mandatory COVID-19 symptom survey before service, and no eating is allowed on the property to ensure masks stay on.

Rabbi Silberberg said it is important to follow CDC guidelines.

“So in Judaism the most important value that we have is called Pikuach nefesh,” she said, explaining the Hebrew words mean “saving a life.”

“And you’re allowed to set aside almost any other Jewish commandment in order to save a life because there is nothing in Judaism more important than saving a life,” she said. “We say that to save a single life is as though you saved an entire world, and to destroy a single life is as though you destroyed an entire world.”

She said everyone has been compliant and cautious.

“So it’s really important to us to maintain keeping people safety and security and maintain people's lives, that really comes before anything” she said. “And then alongside that probably one of the next greatest values is community and so we really tried to balance first and foremost saving a life but still building an in-person community in a safe way.”

Shawn Green is lead minister at Sherwood Oaks Christian Church.

Green said masks and social distancing are required, and every other pew is roped off and cleaned and rotated between each service.

He said speakers do not wear masks but are socially distanced on stage.

“The worship gathering has been a two-fold expression of our own personal worship to God, but it’s also an expression of community,” he said. “We feel like we are part of a larger body. And I think that’s one of the reasons why God created the church. And for many people, being able to re-gather in person has just been such an encouragement for them. Many people during this time felt very isolated, felt very alone. And to be able to come back to church to be a part of a gathering of people again, there’s just kind of a warmth to it.”

For more information, each religious center has their COVID-19 precautions on their website.

For the latest news and resources about COVID-19, bookmark our Coronavirus In Indiana page here.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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